Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The End of the Beginning

Devils Tower would be the last destination of the trip. From there, we drove three days straight back to Ontario. The drive was pretty uneventful, although the return to real humidity was a bit of a shocker. Somewhere outside of Chicago we stepped out of the car and were immediately drenched with sweat. The thought of sleeping in such horrible conditions did not appeal to us. We got a motel for the night.

We didn't pass up one more opportunity to tie into a rope though. While we were at my parent's, unwinding and cleaning out Kristal's car, we were solicited to clean out the chimney of the wood stove. Here we are chilling on the roof, anchored to the old brick chimney.

And here I am, being belayed by Kristal, exercising my expert chimney sweeping technique.

The trip was incredible. In 4 months we traveled 20589 km, visited 20 destinations in 13 states, and spent 83 days climbing.

We amassed a nice collection of shoes (Kristal more so than I), most of which are in desperate need of being resoled.

We also amassed a mighty collection of guidebooks.

We keep pretty detailed logbooks of everything we climb, more for our own curiosity than anything else, but for those interested, here are the final stats...

We spent 41 days climbing routes (32 trad and 9 sport). In that time we climbed a total of 128 routes (74 trad and 54 sport), with 177 total pitches, ranging in total height from 30 to 740 feet and difficulty from 5.2 to 5.11b.

We spent 42 days bouldering (I win!!). I sent a total of 406 problems ranging in difficulty from V0- to V6. I don't have Kristal's numbers but I'm sure they aren't much different.

We'll be home for a couple of weeks before hitting the road again in early September. In the meantime I may or may not post anything here. It depends on if anything interesting happens. I'm looking forward to climbing some of the local areas around Ottawa again. In the fall we are planning to head out west again, to Squamish, eventually to Utah, and anywhere else the road takes us.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Devils Tower

Devils Tower is a pretty awe-inspiring sight.

When I saw it appear on the horizon my first thought was "holy crap" and my second was "how do I get on top?" Actually, getting on top of the tower isn’t exactly easy. There are only a few moderate routes up the tower and they're mostly located on the south and east sides. This is more than a bit of an issue in the heat of summer, when climbing in the sun is absolutely intolerable, and when thunderstorms are nearly guaranteed to roll in by mid afternoon.

On our first day at the tower, Jason and I figured we'd take our chances with the rain and waited to start climbing until our chosen route was in the shade. I was feeling pretty smug as I climbed up the first pitch and watched three guys rappel past looking exhausted and sweaty after having climbed the tower in the blazing sun. The smug feeling didn’t last very long; we were only one pitch up when the sky turned dark and thunder started rumbling in the distance. We bailed. To my annoyance, the storm didn't amount to much and the sky was bright and clear by the time we made it down. Jason snapped a pic of me ignoring the wildlife as I hunted through the guidebook to find a better strategy to make it to the top.

The climbing guides and park rangers at Devil’s Tower are full of great advice ranging from what routes to climb to how to avoid being mobbed by bikers (wear a Harley Davidson t-shirt and make sure your rope is completely hidden in your pack!). Following some advice from Ranger Jen, on our second attempt we got an earlier start on the north side of the tower. We got to the base of the climb and found one party ahead of us, but figured we'd have plenty of daylight, as they were already two pitches ahead of us. The first couple of pitches were 250' of quality climbing that brought us up to a comfortable ledge known as the Teacher's Lounge. The guys ahead of us had some issues with stuck gear (and a lost sock!) so we chilled out on the ledge for a while. Finally we racked up and started climbing what was undeniably the best pitch we've done in the last four months. A short finger crack crux led to a solid hundred feet of perfect hands.

The super sustained, near-vertical climbing was pretty grueling and both of us were exhausted by the time we made it to the top of the pitch. Thankfully, the climbing above eased up and we made it to the top about an hour before sunset.

Here’s Jason signing the summit register.

While the climb up was the best one we've done, the trip back down was probably the worst. Firstly, our guidebook had some issues with accuracy. As I was rappelling down in the dwindling light, I crept lower and lower, well below where the guidebook showed the anchors were, and finally found a manky pair of bolts. I was pretty relieved to have avoided being suspended 300’ off the ground unable to move, but while we were pulling the ropes down we felt a felt a little snag. Jason gave the rope a solid tug. And a basketball-sized rock came careening down from 70 feet above, ricocheted off the rock and flew down about three feet away from us. Not cool.

It was dark by the time we made it to the ground, avoided stepping on a rattlesnake on the trail, and collected our stuff. As we hiked around the base of the tower back to the car, a late thunderstorm rolled in. The lightening was absolutely crazy. The flashes were nearly continuous and would light up the entire tower. We jumped into the car exactly two minutes before a torrential downpour started.

We had made it to the top and avoided a real epic. Naturally, we were feeling pretty smug as we sat in the car and watched the rain. Until we remembered we'd left the windows of our tent open…

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Got Him!

Another thing the Needles is known for is the tourists. There are an endless number milling about, driving down the Needles Highway, and stopping, often right in the middle of the road, to take pictures of the unique rock formations. To compound the number of normal tourists, we also happened to be there the week before the Sturgis bike rally. If you are familiar with Sturgis you need no explanation. If not, well, imagine every motorcycle you've ever seen in your entire life being in the same place at the same time. The bikers travel to all manner of destinations around Sturgis while they are there, the Needles being one of them.

Normally tourists aren't that big a deal, we've definitely been places with a lot of them, but many of the spires at the Neeedles are literally right beside the road. If you happen to be climbing one of these you must prepare yourself to be treated like wildlife.

It's pretty entertaining to hear tourists within easy earshot talking about you. It's not uncommon to hear things like 'Got Him!' as a tourist quickly stops and snaps a pic. When you get to the top and look around you will most likely see a large group in the nearest pullout ready to immortalize you in their personal photo collection. Prepare to wave. You will be berated with inane comments like 'Don't jump! or 'Where's the elevator?' Thankfully you merely need to walk 5 minutes from the road to escape the madness. These tourists are remarkably lazy.

Exhibit A, here is the laziest family we encountered. Instead of walking the 30 feet to the picnic table on the nice patch of grass, they simply spread their blankets behind their cars and had a picnic in the parking lot.

The Black Hills is a pretty beautiful place, and we did take some time to play tourist ourselves, hiking around and taking pictures.

We even made it to tourist central, Mount Rushmore.

We were thankful to move on before the bike rally actually started in earnest. Little did we know that there would be no escape. Bikers had taken over every town within 100 miles of Sturgis. At our next destination, the iconic Devils Tower, the crux of each day would be making the approach through the throngs without having to stop and answer the same questions over and over again. Just keep your head down and walk fast.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Adventure Climbing

Vedauwoo marked our entry into the land of afternoon thunderstorms, and the trend would continue at our next destination: The Needles, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We saw some sort of precipitation pretty much every day we were there. Thankfully you can get on the rock before the storms form and they usually blow over pretty quickly.

The Needles is a fascinating place to climb, and is unique in its seemingly endless number of spires.

One day we did a popular peak linkup called the Cathedral Enchainment, which has about 400 feet of climbing and takes you to the top of three awesome peaks in the Cathedral Spires area. It was a pretty interesting day that didn't have the most promising of starts. The approach description in the guidebook was a little lacking, so what should have been a nice easy 30 minute approach turned into over 2 hours of trying to figure which spire was which and which gully we should be hiking up. Eventually we found the climbs, and though we were a little leary of the late start, due to the potential for afternoon storms, off we went.

These three peaks were right beside each other, so after getting to the top of one, you could rap about halfway down and start climbing the next one. Getting from the first to the second peak involved the single most committing move of the entire trip. Here is Kristal doing the 'stem of faith'.

What you don't see in the picture is the 80+ feet of air between Kristal and the ground.

While Kristal was climbing the second peak I was nervously looking at the sky to the south and north of us, the only parts I could see from the gap between the spires. I wasn't too pleased with the darkening clouds I saw rolling by. Kristal was climbing the east face, so she couldn't see what was approaching. As she topped out, this is what she saw.

Once I got up there we rapped down as quick as we could to the gap between the second and third spires. It was the first time we'd been genuinely afraid of getting struck by lightning. We decided to wait it out a bit in our relative safety. Thankfully the center of the storm blew over just north of us and within half an hour the sky was clear again. We counted ourselves lucky and proceeded to the last, and highest of the spires.

One of the cool things about the Needles is that many of the peaks have summit registers. It's pretty cool to read some of the notes people write and be able to add your own entry. Here is Kristal filling out the register on the top of the third spire.

We spent 5 days climbing in the Needles and topped out many spires. Here's Kristal on the top of Gnomon.

And here she is on the top of Tent Peg, the top of which is only about 1 foot wide and 3 feet long.

Here's me at the top of the last climb of our stay, Picture Rock, with the Cathedral Spires area in the background.

The history here is also incredibly interesting, and reading about it in the guidebooks is as entertaining as climbing the routes themselves. Many of the climbs were put up in the 50s and 60s, and the style of some of the climbs are very much from that era, including committing moves and a healthy number of runout sections. More so than at any other destination we've been to our mantra was 'do not fall'. Adventure climbing at it's finest!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Next stop was Vedauwoo, another Joshua Tree like destination, in southeastern Wyoming. What sets Vedauwoo apart is its abundance of off-width climbs ... and pain.

Some of the climbs are on a type of large crystal granite that results in the most painful climbing we have done. Long sleeve shirts, pants and tape gloves are a must for any of the off-widths. Knee and elbow pads are highly recommended for some. Imagine wedging yourself in a chimney full of sharp nails and climbing it. Some of these climbs would rip you to shreds if you fell.

We tried a couple of these routes, but in general stayed away. You need a special kind of drive, or masochistic tendencies to enjoy some of them. Some people love it, like the camp host of the pay campground. It was his favourite climbing destination. We don't think he's been to very many.

Thankfully, not all the rock is so unforgiving, and we found a couple of really nice lines. Edward's Crack 5.7 was one of the best easy single pitch trad lines we have climbed the entire trip.

Vedauwoo was also the sight of our first minor epic. A burly roof, stuck rope, stuck gear and lack of headlights (usually we properly prepare for late starts) meant our nice evening climb of The Hole '5.7' turned into a three hour ordeal that had us rapping off the top in the dark. At least the moon was pretty.

All in all, we only spent two days climbing and one day bouldering there. It's a pretty cool climbing destination, and the free camping is pretty awesome, but it really didn't have enough of our style of climbing (long trad routes) to keep our interest. The bouldering seemed more enticing. We only got on a few problems before being chased off by rain, but it left us wanting for more. We decided to move on though. Other destinations awaited.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Wild West

We spent two days bouldering around Cody, Wyoming, which turned out to be surprisingly good. An added bonus is that it is all sandstone and limestone. So nice on the fingers! The first day was a bit of a bust, as we just went to the first area in the guidebook (note to guidebook authors: please add useful descriptions for the various areas!). It had a couple of decent problems, but some less than ideal landings, and little shade to protect us from the baking sun.

On day two we managed to find the sweet spots. A large number of concentrated problems, with good landings, all nestled in a large gully filled with pines to shelter us from the sun. We later learned, talking with a local at the gear shop, that a LOT of landscaping had been done to make the landings decent. Thank you locals.

We didn't take a lot of pictures, as we were too busy enjoying the problems, but here is Kristal on Hat Trick V2.

And me on Ripple Mark V3.

Cody itself is a pretty interesting city, named after none other than William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody. It is claimed to be the 'Rodeo Capital of the World', and after spending a couple of days there it is hard to argue. They hold a rodeo every night from May to October. That's right, every night.

The wild west is everywhere. The first building we parked in front of in town had a 50 foot long model of a rifle on the roof. They close one of the streets downtown every night to stage a mock gunfight. For the most part it is extremely touristy, but there is some really cool history there.

The most interesting is the old town they have set up.

All of the buildings have some signifigance and were painstakingly moved from their original locations.

Here is the saloon that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would regularly frequent.

Complete with bullet holes in the front door.

We camped in Buffalo Bill State Park and snagged an awesome site, complete with privacy fencing (okay, it's actually a wind break) right on the water.

When we arrived the attendant informed us, somewhat apologetically, that the campground had no showers. All Kristal and I could think was, 'Really? There's a big friggin lake right in front of us!'. Any fresh water near a campground is a luxury by our standards.